Learning to play pickleball is as easy as 1, 2, 3!
Welcome to sport of pickleball! I’m excited for you, specifically the journey you’re about to undertake. The steps on your journey to learn pickleball are easy to do but challenging to master. Like many other sports, there are many layers and nuances when it comes to excelling at every aspect of the game. But unlike many other sports, you’ll be able to learn pickleball well enough to play with others and sustain rallies very quickly (15-20 minutes in many cases!)
To do this, you need to know the following three things:
- How to keep score
- Where to be on the court
- What is the kitchen?
Other articles on the site will go into more detail for specific aspects of the game, but understanding these three areas will provide you with the foundation needed to get out on the court, play the game, and have a great time! Let’s cover each one in order.
How to keep score
The majority of pickleball is played as doubles teams (you and your partner against two opponents) so let’s start there. In pickleball doubles, the score consists of three numbers (such as 1-3-1 or 5-2-2). Pickleball scoring may look a little non-conventional the first time, but will become more natural after you play your first game or two.
- The first number is the score of the team who is currently serving and will be a number from 0 to 11 for most games (but can be 15 for some tournaments). You must win by 2 points (or more) and matches are typically played best 2 out of 3 games.
- The second number is the receiving team’s score and will also be a number from 0 to 11 (or 15 for some tournaments).
- The last number is the current server number and always be a 1 or a 2. Each team will have a 1st server and a second server. Singles scoring doesn’t use the 3rd number, so singles scores will look like 4-2, 3-0, etc.
Points can only be scored by the serving side. Teams will change sides after each game and ,if a deciding third game is played, players will switch sides after one team reaches 6 points. They will then remain there until the end of the game.
Two things to mention here:
- The ball is served by both players on a side who must lose their serve before their opponents become the serving team.
- The only exception to this is when the game starts. Once the person serving to start the game loses their serve, their opponents become the serving team. This continues from then on with both players on each side having to lose their serve before the opponent gets to serve again. Because of this, the score ends in a ‘2’ instead of a ‘1’ as you might expect.
Let’s have a fictional match with me (Trey) and my partner (Paige) against a team of Jack and Jill. Original, I know ;-). Jack and I are the 2nd servers on our teams while Paige and Jill are the 1st servers. Paige and I are serving first to start the game and the score is 0-0-2.
Paige hits a good serve to start the game. We rally back and forth with the other team and then they hit the ball into the net. Because we are serving, we win the point and the score is now 1-0-2 (one point for us, no points for our opponents, and Paige is serving.
Another way to think of the ‘2’ at the end of the score is that if the serving team loses the point, it will switch over to the other team to serve. Whereas if it’s a ‘1’ at the end of the score, and if the serving team loses the point, the server’s partner becomes the new server. The serve stays with them.
Now, with the score 1-0-2, Paige serves again and we win the next point as well to make the score 2-0-2. On Paige’s next serve, we lose the point. The serve now switches over to our opponents (Jack & Jill) with the score 0-2-1 [The serving team has 0 points, Paige and I have 2 points, and the 1st server (Jill) is serving.]
Jill serves but hits the ball into the net, committing a fault. The score now becomes 0-2-2. Note that the points haven’t changed (it’s still 0 points to 2 points). The last number is now a 2 to indicate that the second server on the team is now serving. If Jack and Jill now win a point (with Jack serving) the score becomes 1-2-2.
Where to be on the court
This is another key element as you learn pickleball, and goes hand-in-hand with understanding the strategy. When you are serving, both you and your partner will be standing behind the baseline. Due to the two-bounce rule, you both should remain there until you hit your third shot.
The player receiving the serve will be behind the baseline and their partner will be up a the kitchen line (discussed in more detail below).
Once the returner has hit their return, they can immediately start moving up t the kitchen line. In pickleball, the receiving team has the advantage of court position (one player is already up at the kitchen line).
More advanced positioning is covered in the article on stacking.
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What is the kitchen?
The pickleball kitchen line is one of the first things you’ll be exposed to as you learn pickleball. It’s what makes the pickleball court (and pickleball strategy) unique. The kitchen (also known as the No Volley Zone) extends 7 feet out from and runs parallel to the net.
More detailed information can be found in the post on rules (as well as at the official tournament rule book at USAPA.org), but the kitchen prevents players from standing close to the net and hitting a volley (or hitting overheads from close range) right at their opponents. It provides a little space from the opponents on each side of the court.
A ball must bounce before hitting it in the kitchen. You can’t take the ball out of the air (volley) while standing in the kitchen.
There you have it…the ‘Easy as 1,2,3’ steps to learning pickleball. Now it’s time to get out on the court and have some fun!
Trey SizemoreTrey Sizemore is the founder of pickleballhut.com, and the host of the 'Dinking Out Loud' podcast. Trey has been playing pickleball for several years and loves helping others discover this great game and improve their skills. Trey has launched several online resources with the goal of helping players of all levels improve their game through multi-format instruction.
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